Artificial and bioartificial liver support systems (LSSs) appear to be safe and effective in the treatment of acute and acute-on-chronic hepatic failure (AHF and AOCHF); however, individually published studies and previous meta-analyses have revealed inconclusive results. The aim of the present meta-analysis was to derive a more precise estimation of the benefits and disadvantages of artificial and bioartificial LSSs for patients with AHF and AOCHF. A literature search was conducted in the PubMed, Embase, Web of Science and Chinese Biomedical (CBM) databases for publications prior to March 1, 2013. Crude relative risks (RRs) or standardized mean differences (SMDs) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated using either the fixed effects or random effects models. Nineteen randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were included, which comprised a total of 566 patients with AHF and 371 patients with AOCHF. The meta-analysis showed that artificial LSS therapy significantly reduced mortality in patients with AOCHF; however, it had no apparent effect on total mortality in patients with AHF. The results also indicated that the use of bioartificial LSSs was correlated with decreased mortality in patients with AHF. A significant reduction in the bridging to liver transplantation was observed in patients with AOCHF following artificial LSS therapy; however, similar results were not observed in patients with AHF. Patients with AHF and those with AOCHF showed significant reductions in total bilirubin levels following artificial LSS therapy. There were no significantly increased risks of hepatic encephalopathy or bleeding in either the patients with AHF or AOCHF following artificial or bioartificial LSS therapies. Univariate and multivariate meta-regression analyses confirmed that none of the factors explained the heterogeneity. The present meta-analysis indicated that artificial LSSs reduce mortality in patients with AOCHF, while the use of bioartificial LSSs was correlated with reduced mortality in patients with AHF.